By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – “As comrade after comrade departs, we march on with our ranks growing thinner.”
Those words were part of a prayer spoken by Jack Grass, Chaplin for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4100, at the Veterans Day observance downtown last Wednesday.
As the 11 a.m. ceremony began, 111 people had gathered at the memorial in Railroad Park that honors the war dead of Yalobusha County. Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I that ended with the signing of an armistice at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1919, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
“We want to remember all veterans especially those who are fighting for us now in this war against terrorism,” said Sam Phillips, VFW Post 4100 Commander as he opened the ceremony.
Phillips introduced Mayor Larry Hart who said that it was an honor to speak before such a distinguished group. Hart then asked those present to name a veteran, “someone who is on your heart.”
One after another, the names were called out. Many were from earlier wars, but some were of the young men and women who are involved in the current conflicts.
“On behalf of the City of Water Valley, my family, my children, especially…” Hart said, his voice filled with emotion. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your service to our country.”
When Phillips returned to the podium, he took time to honor Ed Freeman, who died this past June in Boise, Idaho. Phillips explained that Freeman was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner who flew his unarmed medical evacuation helicopter into a firefight in Vietnam.
“I would like to remember Ed and all the other Medal of Honor winners like him. Without them, some of us wouldn’t have made it home.”
Phillips asked Water Valley’s First Lady Betty Hart to sing the National Anthem.
Representative Tommy Reynolds then walked to the podium and began his comments by pointing out that the flags were flying at half-mast to honor those who died at Fort Hood on Nov. 5. “Those who we are honoring today at Fort Hood are just as much heroes of our country.”
Reynolds gave the history of Veterans Day and said that we should reflect on the contributions veterans have made and continue to make for our country. He added that there are 23,500,000 veterans in the country and 3,000,000 of those are disabled because of the injuries they suffered.
“Because of their efforts,” he continued, “we have a better world today.”
Following Reynolds, VFW Lady’s Auxiliary President Cynthia Dodge recognized Barron Caulfield III and Daniel Edwards, who are about to return to Iraq for their second tour.
Phillips then introduced guest speaker Sgt. Tommie L. Turner, Admin/Supply NCO for Detachment 1, 289th Vertical Company of Water Valley.
Turner, who served in Afghanistan, said that he knows that America is a “country of freedom.” However we need to be careful who we bring into the military and train, he added, referring to Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, identified as the gunman in the Fort Hood killings.
“Be careful who we trust, watch who we stand by, watch who has our back,” he said as the crowd applauded his words.
Turner added that he was proud to be a veteran. “If it weren’t for the veterans we wouldn’t be America, the land of the free.”
He urged everyone to remember those who have served as he ended his talk. “They have made great sacrifices and put themselves in harm’s way for their country.”